Power and poise at the grand occasion indicate Limerick’s triumph

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There is no doubt that Cork is on the rise and the victory over Kilkenny will have accelerated it. They have several strengths: this momentum and their pace, which are serious and widespread in the team.

The two finalists are the main representatives of the modern game and extremely skilled at playing across the lines. It requires a high level of technical ability, which both have, but Cork relies on skill and pace while Limerick has skill, pace, and most importantly, greater power.

For example, take a Limerick ball going through Darragh O’Donovan or Will O’Donoghue and going to Tom Morrissey, who is physically marked. There is a guy on his shoulder but on several occasions against Waterford he managed to touch with his hand and then undo with physical power.

Traditionally, Limerick has no worries about Tipperary but is extremely wary of Cork.

Cork doesn’t have that in their locker, but they have pace all around the pitch and they have to use it to try to get around Limerick. They also have the victory over Kilkenny and the way it was done, but they also have the well-publicized job that has been done this year to develop a goal threat across the league and the championship.

When it comes to Cork, there is also the issue of voodoo. Limerick is in training, veterans from all over Ireland at this point, playing a power play that at its best is irresistible, but there’s no doubt Cork is not the team they wanted to see the semi-final win.

They bring the voodoo of 1966, 1986 and ’90 when they won as distant aliens. They have people in the back room who won the All-Irelands with Johnny Clifford, the Canon and JBM at the time.

Jack O’Connor of Cork celebrates scoring a goal in the All-Ireland semi-final against Kilkenny at Croke Park. Photography: Lorraine O’Sullivan / Inpho

Then there is fanatic support, so that if they receive a suggestion of opening, the atmosphere is strengthened. You could feel that energy in the All-Ireland Under-20 final the other night.

Traditionally, Limerick has no worries about Tipperary but is extremely wary of Cork.

The problem with voodoo is that no matter how many chicken heads you take out, it won’t win it on its own. It only works when you get a race against the opposition and that’s where I see difficulty for Cork. How are they going to put pressure on the champions?

The consensus is that they will have to get goals. I don’t disagree with this but you rarely hear the question, why? The reason is that no team can get enough possession with Limerick to trade points and Cork is unlikely to reverse that trend.

Cork has not been tested to this level although we have seen better signs from them this year – back to Clare and Kilkenny

They couldn’t get it in July. As bad as Limerick played, they got the game under control and Cork couldn’t take possession of the ball after that. Kyle Hayes became completely dominant and when the pressure was on a downed man Cian Lynch took control and that on a day when Hegarty, Morrissey and Gillane were all replaced.

For voodoo to be a factor, Cork needs enough possession to get the crowd playing and if not, they need goals.

Now, they’ve created some scoring chances this year, but their conversion rate isn’t that great. In the semi-final of Munster, they had opportunities, in particular the penalty but also that of Shane Kingston. Jack O’Connor got a few points that went nowhere. Even in the league meeting in Limerick they had around five scoring chances.

These will have to be taken because while it’s fair to say Cork has improved since July, so has Limerick – infinitely. I had doubts about Limerick after this match. They looked out of shape and it didn’t look like they would have time to fix it.

Cian Lynch of Limerick and Niall O'Leary of Cork in action during the All-Ireland hurling semi-final at Semple Stadium.  Photography: Lorraine O'Sullivan / Inpho

Cian Lynch of Limerick and Niall O’Leary of Cork in action during the All-Ireland hurling semi-final at Semple Stadium. Photography: Lorraine O’Sullivan / Inpho

This was first verified at Páirc Uí Chaoimh when Tipperary beat them in the first half of the Munster final, but since then they have had three outstanding hurling halves. Whenever I have had doubts about Limerick coming into a game it has been about their form because when they are in form there is no one to touch them.

The biggest problem for Cork is how to score Lynch. At Thurles, Mark Coleman did the job very well until he became a spare man during Peter Casey’s sin-binning and Niall O’Leary took over. Lynch went to town before half-time and never looked back.

I’m not sure they have someone to tag it. Waterford and Tipperary tried to go man-to-man, but even when there was no one else home in the first half of the Munster final he was there with a shotgun. When Limerick is under pressure, they rely on him.

This is where they were tested, in the white heat of league games gone awry. Cork has not been tested at this level although we have seen better signs from them this year – going back to Clare and Kilkenny.

I still think Cork will defer to Limerick. I expect them to use the pace to try to get around the champions and open up the space to chase goals.

The champions are also well trained in the big days at Croke Park, but this is Cork’s first All-Ireland in eight years. Limerick has been excellent in finding the right form on these occasions. Last year, they saved the best for the final.

Cork will rely on them to a large extent, not meeting their own standards. I just don’t see that happening.


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